Last Thursday the percentage of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere surpassed 400 parts per million (ppm) for a daily average at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration station at Mauna Loa in Hawaii.
This is the first time that CO2, the most important heat-trapping gas, has gone over the 400 ppm level for a 24-hour period average since scientists began keeping records 50 years ago. CO2 levels have previously hit peaks exceeding that amount at the Hawaiian observatory and that level is reached in the Arctic, but this is the first time the daily average has exceeded that threshold, according to news reports of the event.
It’s important to keep in mind that the 400 ppm reading is just a number. It doesn’t directly mean anything in regard to climate change or possible climate change – if you are one of the people who worries about such stuff. Polar bears aren’t going to start drowning as the arctic ice melts and oceans won’t rise just because the number is now over a level that scientists have longed pegged as a limit we didn’t want cross.
Carbon dioxide levels are numbers just like blood pressure is a number or your weight is a number or the amount of cholesterol in your body can be measured and recorded.
You won’t automatically have a heart attack when you top out at 280 pounds on a scale? Nor are you guaranteed a stroke when your blood pressure hits 175/105.
Along these lines, cars don’t automatically fall apart at 300,000 miles; nor is coffee at $3 a cup a crime against humanity.
But numbers have meanings as measurements and the vast majority of scientists are concerned by the amount of carbon dioxide in our atmosphere.
If blood pressure/weight numbers are being read to you by a doctor who is also shaking his head and offering advice, are you going ignore it? Or would you scoff as it’s possible the science behind blood pressure and heart disease may contain errors?
Carbon dioxide levels may continue to rise and no dire effects occur, just like many people live long years wearing XXXL.
But the general consensus among scientists is that rising levels of carbon dioxide are directly tied to warmer global temperatures which will lead to increasingly unstable weather – such as the January tornado North Georgia had this year, plus longterm effects such as drought. This is not to say that global warming produced the winter tornado, but increasingly unpredictable weather is a consequence often tied to climate change.
Another sour note regarding crossing the 400 ppm threshold is it clearly shows previous efforts to reduce carbon emissions have failed. Everything from proposed government programs to letting industry take care of the problems has not produced any good news.
Like a dieter seeing the scale still going up after a month on a new regime, it’s time to take a completely different approach with reducing human-produced carbon dioxide emissions.
Throw the old cap and trade, new technology playbook out and start at ground zero -- find an approach that is tolerable to the public and to business.
Or then again, maybe it’s not necessary.
Maybe the 400 ppm level doesn’t mean anything at all. Maybe the conservative politicians are right and the scientists are wrong. We can always wait and see what happens. Of course by the time you are in the emergency room, it’s a little late to start eating lettuce.